4.3 Overcoming Barriers to Effective Written Communication

[Author removed at request of original publisher]

Learning Objective

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Describe some common barriers to written communication and how to overcome them.

In almost any career or area of business, written communication is a key to success. Effective writing can prevent wasted time, wasted effort, aggravation, and frustration. The way we communicate with others both inside and outside of our business goes a long way toward shaping the organization’s image. If people feel they are listened to and are able to get answers from the firm and its representatives, their opinion toward the business will be favorable. Skillful writing and an understanding of how people respond to words are central to accomplishing this goal.

How do we display skillful writing and a good understanding of how people respond to words? Following are some suggestions.

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Let’s begin with a university student’s e-mail to a professor:

“i am confused as to why they are not due intil 11/10 i mean the calender said that they were due then so thats when i did them do i still get credit for them or do i need to due them over on one tape? please let me know thanks. also when are you grading the stuff that we have done?”

What’s wrong with this e-mail? What do you observe that may act as a barrier to communication? Let’s start with the lack of formality, including the fact that the student neglected to tell the professor their preferred name or which specific class the question referred to. Then there is the lack of adherence to basic vocabulary and syntax rules. And how about the lower case “i’s” and the misspellings?

One significant barrier to effective written communication is failure to sweat the small stuff. Spelling errors and incorrect grammar may be considered minor details, but they reflect poorly on you and, in a business context, on your company. They imply either that you are not educated enough to know you’ve made mistakes or that you are too careless to bother correcting them. Making errors is human, but making a habit of producing error-filled written documents makes negative consequences far more likely to occur. When you write, you have a responsibility to self-edit and pay attention to detail. In the long run, correcting your mistakes before others see them will take less time and effort than trying to make up for mistakes after the fact.

Consider the Nonverbal Aspects of Your Message

Let’s return to the example at the beginning of this section of an e-mail from a student to an instructor. As we noted, the student neglected to identify themselves and tell the instructor which class the question referred to. Format is important, including headers, contact information, and an informative subject line.

This example shows how the nonverbal aspects of a message can get in the way of understanding. Other nonverbal expressions in your writing may include symbols, design, font, and the timing of delivering your message.

Suppose your supervisor has asked you to write to a group of clients announcing a new service or product that directly relates to a service or product that these clients have used over the years. What kind of communication will your document be? Will it be sent as an e-mail or will it be a formal letter printed on quality paper and sent by postal mail? Or will it be a tweet, or a targeted online ad that pops up when these particular clients access your company’s website? Each of these choices involves an aspect of written communication that is nonverbal. For example, while the words may communicate a formal tone, the font or design may not. The paper chosen to represent your company influences the perception of it. An e-mail may indicate that it is less than formal and be easily deleted.

As another example, suppose you are a small business owner and have hired a new worker named Bryan. You need him to fill out a set of tax forms required by law before you can set him up in your company payroll . Should you send an e-mail to Bryan the night before he starts work, welcoming him aboard and attaching links to the forms? Or should you wait until he has been at work for a couple of hours, then bring him the forms in hard copy along with a printed memo stating that he needs to fill them out? There are no right or wrong answers, but you will use your judgment, being aware that these nonverbal expressions are part of the message that gets communicated along with your words.

Review, Reflect, and Revise

Do you review what you write? Do you reflect on whether it serves its purpose? Where does it miss the mark? If you can recognize it, then you have the opportunity to revise.

Writers are often under deadlines, resulting in a rush job where not every last detail is reviewed. Often this rush leads to mistakes. Rather than go through the experience of seeing all the mistakes in your “final” product and rushing off to the next job, you may need to allow more time to focus on the task at hand and get it done correctly the first time. Manage time so that you can go over each step in detail as you review.

A mental review of the task and your performance is often called reflection. Reflection is not procrastination. It involves looking at the available information and, as you review the key points in your mind, making sure each detail is present and accurate. Reflection also allows for another opportunity to consider the key elements and their relationship to each other.

When you revise your document, you change one word for another, make subtle changes, and improve it. Don’t revise simply to change the good work you’ve completed, but instead look at it from the perspective of the reader—for example, how could this be clearer to them? What would make it more visually attractive while continuing to communicate the message? If you are limited to words only, then does each word serve the article or letter?

Check Your Knowledge

 

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4.3 Overcoming Barriers to Effective Written Communication by [Author removed at request of original publisher] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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